April 14, 2022

MCC Day 14 – The Officers Who Ended the NS Rampage Testify

The final day of proceedings prior to the second anniversary of the tragic deaths featured joint testimony from the two officers who shot and killed Gabriel Wortman. They described their actions overnight and into the morning, why they went to the Big Stop, and their developing knowledge base throughout the ordeal. They answered questions well, giving thorough and coherent accounts of what took place. In their telling, the takedown has its elements of luck, but is also an example of how well prepared and competent people just seem to make their own luck.

They were chasing someone, who, unknown to anyone, had very recently switched vehicles, and who was carrying five loaded firearms. They both needed gas, and stopped at the same pump. Cst. Hubley thought quickly and acted quickly, with Cst. MacLeod in support. In total, they fired 23 bullets, killing Wortman. In the early moments, Wortman turned his gun on himself and took one shot which Dr. Bowes stated would have killed him eventually as well. (This last part of information was newly released yesterday through Dr. Bowes’ testimony, and expanded upon today by the officers.)

Anyone watching Cst. Craig Hubley and Cst. Ben MacLeod testify today might naturally be caught up in the intense and at times emotional atmosphere in which the officers found themselves. Cst. Hubley was emotional in describing finding the McCully family dog, and the vindictiveness it would take to shoot a 20lb animal that posed no threat. Both officers took their time recounting the final moments of the rampage by Gabriel Wortman when they shot him at the Big Stop in Enfield.

Certainly, having these particular officers testify at this time, prior to a long weekend, as well as the two-year anniversary of the killings, was a deliberate choice by the Commission. One might ask why these officers have been called to testify about their quick-thinking heroics, rather than having officers from the earlier portions of the narrative who have yet to testify. There are still many of them.

The other question I had yesterday, and have even more so today, is why the video from the Big Stop was not shown and discussed. It was not even publicly acknowledged that there is video in existence (which there is, and which I have watched) which covers the final confrontation from several angles. The MCC has not stated whether the Commissioners have made a particular decision about playing the video.

The MCC has provided the video to the media under very strict conditions that it not only not be published, but also that it be destroyed after viewing. Requiring the deletion of the video is an onerous condition, and not playing it was very strange. It is the best possible evidence of what happened, and it is available. Again, I believe not playing it was a PR decision, so that every newscast would not be leading with the video. Perhaps not, but if they are holding it back as part of their trauma informed mandate, they should at least explain why they think that is the right call.

The stated reason for the two officers to be present at the Big Stop was to get gas. Cst. Hubley stated in his evidence that he thought the situation might go on for a while yet, and so he thought he should fill up his gas tank. Somewhat curiously, he said the tank was “below half”, which hardly makes filling up seem like an urgent need, particularly since they were presuming at that point that the killer was very close by, and was active. Cst. Hubley did also say he was thinking ahead to the potential that he may have to follow the killer’s trail into Halifax.

Regardless of whether the lead in to the shooting of Wortman has been accurately described, the seconds where the two officers exited their vehicle and shot 23 rounds at the killer make for intense listening. Csts. Hubley and MacLeod described the moments in such a way that you get something of a first-person perspective. Cst. Hubley described experiencing a ‘sensory exclusion’ in those moments after the shooting, which would seem to be the result of deep and intense focus in those moments.

They kept shooting until Wortman stopped moving, as per their training. Cst. Hubley noted that they he had a concern that he may have been wearing hard body armour, as he had been known to have RCMP gear. They pulled back for cover after they shot, and the rest of the ERT squad moved in with support.

It was all very compelling, and demonstrated quick thinking under pressure by two officers, it should be noted, who were operating completely outside the command structure of the RCMP. Cst. Hubley was a dog handler, and so has operational autonomy. I am sure that will be raised as a notable fact when it comes to reviewing the command decisions.

Some other notable points that emerged from the testimony included the fact that Cst. MacLeod was a medic who attended on Lisa Banfield when she emerged from the woods in the morning of April 19, 2020. He said she was disheveled, but made no mention of significant injuries to Ms. Banfield.

In addition, Ms. Banfield had told Cst. MacLeod that she thought Wortman was going to kill her, then go to Dartmouth to kill his sister, then to Moncton to kill his parents. That makes some sense, given the enmity that we have learned Wortman had for his family, going back many years. It may be that he was searching through Portapique for Ms. Banfield, gave up the search when he understood police might be on the scene, and then moved on to try to get to Dartmouth and Moncton. The rest of his killings would, under that theory, have served the purpose of occupying the police while he tried to reach those family members. (Notably, this theory would not explain the McLeod/Jenkins killings.)

The MCC is on break next week, and will be back on April 25th, to do a Foundational Document presentation on police paraphernalia.